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Practices can still make a difference as Law Centre closes

The city that is home to the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Legal Ombudsman, has the largest law society in the country and some of the country’s top law firms, now no longer has its Law Centre

You will have read by now that Birmingham Law Centre has closed.

The ‘institution’ – and I do not use that term lightly – provided free legal advice for around 2,000 residents of Birmingham who could not afford the services of a solicitor.

In one guise or another it has been around for more than a century. Sadly, it has now fallen victim to the cuts to the Legal Aid budget.

It seems a great irony that the city that is home to the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Legal Ombudsman, that boasts the largest law society in the country and some of the country’s top law firms, now finds itself alone among major cities in not having this provision.

So where can vulnerable people now go for legal advice?

The Citizens Advice Bureau, which suffers from its own resource issues, and the council’s neighbourhood offices, are expected to pick up some of the slack.

However, it is unlikely that they can cover all the specialist areas that Birmingham Law Centre could.

I hope that the city’s legal community will be motivated to do what they can.

Mills & Reeve was a founding partner of Birmingham Free Legal Advice Group (FLAG), the award-winning clinic run by law students from the University of Birmingham set up in 2010. Last year, No 5 Chambers also joined the initiative.

Students from the university, supervised by solicitors from our firm and the chambers, provide advice on issues ranging from matrimonial and family disputes, wills and employment and bankruptcy and insolvency.

Since its inception, the clinic has advised more than 200 people – a drop in the ocean compared to the thousands who went through the doors of the Birmingham Law Centre each year.

However, as the Legal Aid cuts continue to bite, I suspect these numbers will rise.

The initiative provides hands-on experience for the students and is hugely rewarding for our young lawyers taking part.

I don’t for one minute believe that pro bono advice can fill the void left by the closure of Birmingham Law Centre, but if those firms that are able to get involved in initiatives like FLAG, then we can at least make a difference.

• Steve Allen, Birmingham head of office at national law firm Mills & Reeve       

 
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